Liverpool take on Manchester United in a crunch encounter at Anfield on Saturday. The Reds are unbeaten in the league in 2015, but their opponents have more-or-less had a good season, even though many of their performances were said to be underwhelming. Moreover, they come into this game at the back a morale boosting 3-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur and their performance was said to be their best of the season. Therefore, we are likely to witness a clash of equals on Sunday and here are three key battles for the game.
Jordan Henderson vs. Michael Carrick
These two players have been key members of their respective sides and removing them from their respective teams will mean that both the sides start looking handicapped. Henderson has three goals in three games which will put him in extremely confident mood but his counterpart and compatriot Carrick scored a goal and provided an assist in the thrashing of Spurs.
Henderson’s role in the Liverpool side has grown in the absence of Steven Gerrard and the 24-year old has delivered admirably. He has not only taken the captain’s responsibility well, but the added responsibility has also visibly given him confidence and his individual game has improved a lot. Henderson will need to be on top of his game once again. It is uncertain whether Steven Gerrard will start but in either situation, the England midfielder will have to take the responsibility to dictating proceedings from the centre. While the player performs very well when he has freedom to roam in-front, like was visible against Swansea after the second half introduction of Steven Gerrard, he has to make sure Liverpool dominate the midfield. Allen will need Henderson’s support in shielding the defence and protecting it against the likes of Mata, Fellaini and Rooney.
There was a lot of talk of United needing a central midfielder and Carrick has been their answer. The Englishman makes his side tick. He has been extremely influential for his side and if United want to succeed at Anfield, Carrick will need to have a top game once again. In games when hea s played an hour or more, United have won 2.3 points per game and when he hasna t, theya ve won 1.6 points per game. The player possesses an impressive vision and can knit fine passes to find attackers in threatening position. Carrick will need to ensure it is he who dominates the midfield and wins the “influence battle” over Jordan Henderson as he can make the real difference for the visitors on Sunday.
Who wins this will have plenty of sway on the result.
Philippe Coutinho vs. Juan Mata
Coutinho has been called the “brain” of the Liverpool side by Brendan Rodgers and it will be difficult to argue with the Liverpool boss. The Brazilian had an outstanding pre-season with the club, had a poor start to the season along with the rest of the team, but has recently come into terrific form which has led the Anfield club to extend his contract as well. Coutinho has scored some beautiful goals recently and it has been observed that if the Brazilian doesn’t perform in the first half, Liverpool also tend to fare badly (as was observed against Swansea and Everton). The 22 year old makes 1.46 key passes per game and his vision and footballing intelligence is the most threatening weapon Liverpool have on their side along with Sterling’s pace. Coutinho will want to have a lasting influence on this game from the starting whistle. Juan Mata has been in and out of the United side but he was in inspiring form against Spurs and showed that he is a player who can consistently deliver. The little Spaniard has 1.29 key passes per game. The battle between the two (if of course, Mata is picked ahead of Angel di Maria), would be interesting since we will see who makes the biggest impact in terms of attacking impetus provided. Mata. One can see “Alberto Moreno maybe running off Juan Mata at Anfield”, and Philippe Coutinho operates on the very same flank so the two might be pitted against each other and the one who comes out on top could determine which side triumphs at the end.
Raheem Sterling vs David de Gea
The last game between the two teams saw Sterling miss 5-6 great chances when he was one on one with De Gea. Of course, to be fair to him, it was his very first game as a false nine and Sterling’s finishing has always been in question. However, since then the 20 year old has got plenty of experience in that role and performed very well on occasions scoring some very important goals. There is a good chance that Sterling operates in that role again since Daniel Sturridge looked off colour against Swansea so we are likely to see the same encounter again. De Gea has been in sensational form this season and has individually won United some very crucial points. According to former Liverpool player John Aldridge, de Gea is the player of the season and he is not wrong. United may well have to depend on their talismanic goalkeeper to get points at Anfield and his latest form would indicate he will deliver when it matters most. Sterling, au contraire, needs to deliver in front of goal against one of the best goalkeepers in the league and prove why he is asking for 150k a week from Liverpool.